Barack Obama is Golden, Rush Limbaugh is Screwed — Predictions for the Year of the Tiger!

By Fatimah Surjani Ortega

Yes, Tiger, this could be your year
Yes, Tiger, this could be your year

Sunday ushers in the Year of Metal Tiger, which sounds like a golf club. That’s actually appropriate, because things look auspicious for Tiger Woods — as long as he can keep his dick in his pants.

Just in time for Chinese New Year, the Voice offers up this celebrity-centered translation of what’s in store for all you furry animals. We’re basing it on the teachings of none other than the Feng Shui Grand Master himself, Singapore-born Tan Khoon Yong.

Let’s start at the beginning, with those of you born in the Year of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008): Your advice for 2010? Pray hard, and pray often.

Governor, you're screwed
Governor, you’re screwed

You have a rough road ahead. Being a rodent, you tend to run and hide from big things. That’s not the game plan for this year. You need to find some courage and bluff your way through this year’s maze. Only through sheer self-confidence, and, well, assholery are you going to find your way to the cheese. Be brave, be a jerk, stay supremely self-assured, and you won’t end up some pussycat’s lunch. If people bitch and moan about you, put on earphones and turn up the volume.
In for a bumpy ride: Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, David Duchovny, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

Year of the Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009)

The future is bright, Barry
The future is bright, Barry

Barack Obama, an Ox, won the presidency in the Year of the Rat, which was a very lucky year for him. He took office in his own year, 2009’s Year of the Ox, which sounds just perfect, doesn’t it? Actually, it predicted disaster: when you meet your own year, Tan Khoon Yong tells us, you challenge the Grand Duke Jupiter God, and although we aren’t really sure what that means, it sure doesn’t sound good, does it? Well, that’s all over with now, and the GOP can really start sweating. Tiger and Ox get along just fine, and Obama should have a monster year. For all you Oxen out there, just keep this in mind: Don’t mix work with pleasure. You tend to work too hard, you lose focus, and your health suffers. Find time to chill. And men, treat your wives well and keep your eyes off the cute cows at the office.
Ready for a bull market: Susan Boyle, George Clooney, Mos Def, Heidi Klum, Barack Obama, Meg Ryan

Year of the Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998)

It's not Rush's year
It’s not Rush’s year

Sorry, Tigers, but you’re fucked. The Feng Shui masters say you’ll be offering up a challenge to Tai Sui, the Grand Duke Jupiter, or God of the Year, and with every freaking thing you do, you’ll have to watch your back. This is not a year to take chances, and if things aren’t going your way you’re going to feel like crap. All the time. But don’t lose hope entirely. This is a year to count on yourself, because you won’t find help from others. Create your own opportunities through careful, logical planning, and count on your imagination for ideas. Be cautious and wise, and you can give Grand Duke Jupiter — and everyone else — the finger.
Who’s in deep shit: Tom Cruise, Jenna Jameson, Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Sanchez

Year of the Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999)

Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!
Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!

The lovable hare. Your charm makes you popular, and you feel good, but you might be looking for trouble. The new year should start with a plan to fix some lingering problems. Why? Hare men tend to cheat. And when you’re both rabbits — we’re looking at you, Brangelina — well, the tabloids may be in for a banner year. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Tiger Woods is a randy rabbit, but if he’s really determined to change his ways, this year is on his side. Rabbits, stop trying to charm the rest of the world and use your powers instead to improve things at home and at work. And get some sun. Vitamin D can be the difference between a gloomy or glorious year.
Who needs some beach time: Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, Conan O’Brien, Sarah Palin, Brad Pitt, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods

Year of the Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000)

Keep the change, Fiddy
Keep the change, Fiddy

You self-obsessed lizard, you thought everyone was having a shitty 2009. Well, there has been a recession on, but things were tougher on you than others. And you aren’t getting a break any time soon. Yes, it’s another tough year for the dragons, and watch out for unpleasant surprises, all related to your usual shortcomings (you know what they are). But fuck it, don’t listen to this prediction. You did survive the worst recession in a generation, and if you did that, you’ll be fine. Cheer up, Smaug.
Keep your wings tucked and your head down: 50 Cent, Courtney Cox, Bret Easton Ellis, Courtney Love, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon

Year of the Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001)

John, you ignorant slut
John, you ignorant slut

Things look good for snakes, but don’t get pleased with yourself just yet. Serpents tend to celebrate success with sexual adventure, and some of you will be determined to turn this into the Year of the Slut. Down, boy! Try to redirect that energy into your career or something, because giving in to your impulses is not a good idea this year.
Who’s champing to whore around: Mike Bloomberg, Tina Brown, John Edwards, Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey

Year of the Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002)

Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!
Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!

Healthy as a horse? Tell that to Barbaro. Yes, it’s going to be that kind of year, Seabiscuit, and you better watch it. Trouble is looking for you, and it’s your health that’s likely to suffer. Avoid disputes, particularly anything involving documents that have your name on them, and gallop away from a deal that isn’t guaranteed. That said, a modest investment in real estate might be wise, and whatever you do, donate some charity or at least some blood while your health still holds.
Constitutionally challenged: Halle Berry, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cynthia Nixon, Gov. David Paterson, Kristen Stewart

Year of the Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003)

Everyone loves you, Steve
Everyone loves you, Steve

So long, bad luck, here comes good fortune. If Steve Jobs knew what was good for him, he’d have delayed introducing the iPad until after Chinese New Year (and given it a better name!). At least he’ll have a good chance to gain some weight this year. Goats are in luck: other people will favor them this year, and they’ll find assistance from places they didn’t expect it. But Billy, don’t be a show off. Play things right, and you’ll gain back more than you lost last year.
Not scapegoats this year: Anderson Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Musto, Liev Schreiber

Year of the Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004)

Jen knows from bad luck
Jen knows from bad luck

Monkey, your cycle of good luck has run out. Like the Tigers, you’re also offending the grand god of the year, and 2010 looks like twelve months of suckage. But monkeys often find ways to outsmart their misfortunes — except that they’re also accident prone. So figure things out with that nimble and creative mind, but don’t take risks or you’re likely to slip on a banana peel.
In the jungle this year: Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Aniston, Daniel Craig, Salma Hayek, Jason Schwartzman, Will Smith

Year of the Cock (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005)

Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!
Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!

We know, we know, it’s always the year of the cock, at least in the Village. But this year, seriously, you roosters have much to crow about. The stars have all aligned, and you need to make your big moves RIGHT NOW. Andrew Cuomo? Nothing can stop you, certainly not the likes of David Paterson and Rick Lazio. The feng shui masters say that this is the year for cocks to lay the foundation for a brighter future (and yes, they really do talk like that, so stop giggling). Don’t mess up this opportunity. Be smart, but be bold.
Who wins: Beyonce, Gerard Butler, Andrew Cuomo, Jay-Z, Spike Lee, Taylor Momsen, Gwen Stefani, Tila Tequila

Year of the Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006)

These dogs won't hunt
These dogs won’t hunt

Sorry, puppies, you’re in the doghouse this year. Not only is your luck poor, other people are going to shit on you all year long (and not pick up after themselves!). But look, there’s only one way to deal with it: Don’t complain, don’t whimper, take your losses in stride, and stay out of other people’s business. Don’t drive yourself insane waiting for your luck to turn. There’s an end to this, and it’s just twelve months away. Until then, just take it like a mindless, happy puppy.
Bad dog, no biscuit: George W. Bush, Kelly Clarkson, Bill Clinton, Joseph Fiennes, Queen Latifah, Anna Paquin

Year of the Boar (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007)

No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment
No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment

Boars have had it tough. Hard work didn’t pay off for political pigs Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton in 2008. Last year, 2009, was also supposed to be a lousy one for porkers, but somehow David Letterman watched it happen to the other guys. For the rest of you pigs, 2010 might just be your year. Shrug off the uncertainty and make this a year you take a chance. Sure, others think you’ve been beaten — but now is the time to surprise them with your resilience. Spitzer wants to run again? Do it, man, and not just in your socks.
Who gets a break: Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, Nicky Hilton, Mila Kunis, David Letterman, Ewan McGregor, Eliot Spitzer


Timothy Hutton and Meg Ryan in Serious Moonlight

Timothy Hutton is duct-taped to the potty, and Meg Ryan is just plain potty in this posthumously produced Adrienne Shelly script directed by first-timer Cheryl Hines (who starred in Shelly’s Waitress). Born of the grief-fueled determination of Shelly’s husband, Andy Ostroy, to carry on the legacy of his late wife, who had completed several screenplays by the time of her death in 2006, Serious Moonlight has a backstory much more intriguingly dramatic than what’s onscreen. When alpha attorney Louise (Ryan) discovers that Ian (Hutton), her husband of 13 years, is about to leave her for 24-year-old receptionist Sara (Kristen Bell), she trusses him up on the toilet of their country house, holding him hostage until he falls in love with her again. Ryan flails and Hutton screams through the powder-room tears and recriminations, performing as if they’re doing dinner theater underwritten by Dr. Phil. The tonally weird black comedy throws in some Funny Games—and creepily echoes the circumstances surrounding Shelly’s murder by a construction worker who broke into her office to rob her—when Justin Long’s local gardener shows up to burglarize the house, roughing up Ian and feeling up Louise.


Once Grand, The Women is Now Just Another Chick Flick

“What do you think this is?” cries a lady who lunches in Diane English’s remake of George Cukor’s The Women. “Some kind of ’30s movie?” Even without the 14-year struggle to get the Murphy Brown writer’s pet project past studio doubters, it would be a tall order to remake George Cukor’s 1939 hit, let alone try to corral its proudly reactionary gender politics for 21st-century feminism (or what’s left of it if Sarah Palin has her way). For one thing, the original movie was made during a period when Hollywood eagerly cranked out women’s movies by the dozen, and raked in the profits accordingly. For another, The Women—a product of the creative tension between Cukor, who in his très gay way loved all women provided they came excitable and well-dressed, and his source material, Clare Boothe Luce’s viciously clever 1936 stage satire of Manhattan society dames—was pretty out there for a mainstream movie. Luce’s play wasn’t just an exhortation to the woman wronged by infidelity to stand by her man and manipulate him back into the nest, but also a furiously conservative attack on the modern woman—a play whose respectably married central character, Mary (played by Norma Shearer), entered with a mannish stride, smoking a pipe. It’s only adultery that softens her contours, brings a wistful glisten to her eye at every mention of her husband the heel, and surrounds her with gushy girlfriend gossips who stand ready to rat her out as necessary.

Luce may have been a creep, but she was a fun creep, full of piss and vinegar as she took deadly aim at the useless lives of flighty females with more money than sense. The Women knew what it was, and in Cukor’s smooth hands, carried itself with pride and unspeakably fabulous threads. Who knows what English’s pudding of a remake thinks it is? Trailing negative buzz and a revolving door of A-list talent since its inception in 1994, The Women isn’t so much incompetent—though it has all the visual sumptuousness of a suburban rummage sale—as it is hopelessly tame and muddled. It certainly doesn’t help that the movie’s lead is completely lacking in the mature glamour that so entranced women filmgoers bracing for a world war, and has had so much plastic correction that her features—all but the ingénue eyes—are immobilized (and this in a movie that sucks whatever laughs it can muster from the Botox-and-surgery subculture). Could that be Meg Ryan peering out from Goldie Hawn’s face? Since I have yet to encounter a Ryan comedy in which she fails to flap her hands while pulling on or peeling off woolly socks several fetching sizes too large for her dainty feet, it must be she.

Ryan is all wrong as a contented Connecticut supermom with a half-baked career who’s shaken to her core by the news that her husband is having an affair with a Saks “shpritzer girl” (Eva Mendes). Mendes certainly looks the siren part in a black bustier getup from which only the whip is missing, but that’s as close as this warmly sensuous young actress gets to the spitting venom that made Joan Crawford so wickedly funny in the original. Indeed, what makes this version so flaccid is the absence of a bona fide double-talking vixen in the entire coven—and that includes Jada Pinkett Smith, trying way too hard for lesbian hardbody. As for the chief gossip herself, happily single magazine editor Sylvia Fowler: I’ve always pictured Susan Sarandon in the Rosalind Russell part, if only because she seems to have sprung fully formed from the same genetic material as the great (and similarly pop-eyed) actress. Still, Annette Bening is a perfectly fine choice who gets the best line when she sweeps in and says, “This is my face, deal with it,” before turning into a dithery ghost of Meryl Streep’s caffeinated werewolf in The Devil Wears Prada. Other than, interestingly, the truly older women (Candice Bergen as Mary’s mom, Cloris Leachman as a straight-shooting housekeeper, and a woefully underused Bette Midler as a much-married playgirl), that’s about as badass as anyone gets among this relentlessly well-intentioned lot.

As it happens, Cukor’s screenwriters, Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, also softened the bitter edge of Luce’s dialogue enough to allow audiences to identify with Mary’s desire to recover her prodigal husband. But they never lost sight of the fact that the play was satire. Turning The Women into a girlfriend-solidarity movie (English has called her remake “a love story between two women”) would have made Luce barf, but true to her roots in television, that’s what the director has done. It proves fatal.

Before you know it, The Women has shrunk to fit the sewing form of a movie of the week whose heroine is briefly floored by adversity before rising from the ashes, coiffed à la L’Oreal ’cause she’s worth it, and fully employed with a little help from her BFFs. Hear her roar—or not. Cripplingly sensitive to its market potential, The Women hedges its bets, leaves its options open, and covers every possible female demographic base before wilting into a gooey maternity-ward finale.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several gifted interpreters of women on the verge—Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing), Tamara Jenkins (The Savages), or even Mr. Almodóvar himself—who could have planed away Luce’s viciousness without losing her satirical edge. Understandably, English—who put in the hard labor to bring her baby to term—wanted to direct. But she’s the wrong person for the job, and, willy-nilly, she has reduced one of the wittiest women’s comedies ever made to just another ho-hum chick flick. Lord knows, this summer saw enough of those.


‘In the Land of Women’

Adam Brody made his name playing a neurotic, self-absorbed California Jew on The O.C., so it’s no surprise that he’s cast as a whiny L.A. Heeb named Carter Webb in this maudlin, formulaic affair. Webb goes to suburban Michigan to care for his ailing grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) and nurse a broken heart, but instead ends up befriending a dysfunctional mother-daughter duo (Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart) who teach him the real—as opposed to the fake—meaning of love. Brody shows glimpses of life after suspended adolescence, and Dukakis is hilarious. Too bad Meg Ryan’s new plastic face keeps us from noticing her decent-enough performance. And too bad writer-director Jon Kasdan—son of Lawrence and brother of current box-office competitor Jake—lays on the saccharine pronouncements thick. Without all the soppy plot devices, the Land of Women might have been someplace worth visiting.


Sleep on the Couch Tonight, Darling

Anti-canoodlers of the world, stand and be counted. While aficionados of the lovey-dovey are planning a Blockbuster night with the oeuvres of Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock, treat yourselves to these off-putting I’ll-never-fall-in-love-again classics.

1. DEAD RINGERS (CRITERION) Jeremy Irons will freak your shit as a pair of fucked-up twin gynecologists in this David Cronenberg creep-out. One of them falls in love with pill-popping actress Geneviève Bujold, the other gets jealous, and the descent into madness begins. If you’re involved with a woman, the whole “unhinged gyno” aspect of the film will guarantee she won’t want to be touched Down There for weeks.

2. STAR 80 (WARNER HOME VIDEO) Bob Fosse’s final film tracks the softcore life and sadcore death of Playboy model Dorothy Stratten (pneumatically played by Mariel Hemingway). Her slink up the Hollywood ladder is quashed when she’s brutally murdered by her nut job husband .

3. BONJOUR TRISTESSE (COLUMBIA TRISTAR HOME ENTERTAINMENT) Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Françoise Sagan’s novel (it was the Less Than Zero of its day, only good) stars Jean Seberg as a party minx out to derail papa David Niven’s engagement to blue-nose designer Deborah Kerr.

4. ERASERHEAD (VHS ONLY) It’s Love, David Lynch-Style: A personality-free young man with a great haircut (Jack Nance) is abandoned by his unpleasant wife after the birth of their screeching, mucusy, alien-esque baby. Then he loses his heart to the woman in the radiator. Put the Moët back in the fridge and pop an extra Paxil.

5. HUSBANDS AND WIVES (COLUMBIA TRISTAR HOME ENTERTAINMENT) Woody Allen’s poisonous relationship comedy—which asserts that the only thing worse than being married is being alone—actually made a guy I was dating dump me after we saw it, saving me the bother.


No rage and lots of bull in Meg Ryan’s Erin Brockovich act

Cut me, Mick! Maybe that’ll keep me awake. With the same movie star hairdo that squashed Jennifer Aniston’s bid for store-clerkness in The Good Girl, Meg Ryan shakily assays another non-rom-com role, this time in a sports flick based on the life of Detroit sportswriter turned boxing agent Jackie Kallen. But what could have been a Working Girl hoot gets mired in redundant assertions of Kallen’s feistiness. See our miniskirted babe take her job and shove it, strut out of typecast tough-talker Tony Shalhoub’s office like it’s a Hot Topic runway show, badger typecast wise man (and director) Charles Dutton into coming out of coaching retirement. As in In the Cut, Ryan’s mentoring of a young black man gets played for walk-on-the-edge cred: See her brave the projects looking for typecast sports bad boy Omar Epps (who she’s sure will be great if he’d just work as hard at boxing as she does at making her Midwestern vah-wells sound so flay-yat). As a gloves-off Erin Brockovich, Ryan never makes it into the ring.


Cop’s Hot For Teacher, Goes Down By Law in Campion Policier

Taking a role intended for the indomitable Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan gets naked, frisky, and totally weirded out for Jane Campion’s arty thriller In the Cut. The movie, adapted from Susanna Moore’s bestselling literary gothic, is aggressively grim and gory. It’s a throwback to the New York policiers of the Koch era, yet wacky enough to suggest a procedural in the Land of Oz.

An uptight creative-writing teacher with pronounced boundary issues, Ryan is hanging out with a student in an East Village bar when, searching the basement for a toilet, she stumbles upon a woman sexually servicing a shadowy man—his face obscured but a helpful close-up revealing his distinctive little tattoo. A few hours later, the servicer is lying dead and, as the police say, “disarticulated” in a nearby empty lot, and Ryan is being questioned by a similarly tattooed and bluntly flirtatious cop (Mark Ruffalo), who contemplates her confusion with expressionless cow eyes, and seems to know an awful lot about her connection to the corpse.

Ryan is fascinated by this confident male, who effortlessly channels the cadences of every NYPD stud to ever appear on network TV. Still, it takes a mystery mugging to make her fall into bed with him for the movie’s big moment of cunnilingual nuzzling. “Who taught you that?” she exclaims. At the Toronto Film Festival, where In the Cut had a less than epochal world premiere, Ruffalo confessed that Campion—who reportedly offered to direct the sex scene au naturel—had primed his performance with some recommended marital aids. Perhaps that’s why he has the best lines: “You’re here for the sex, right?” he rhetorically asks Ryan. “You don’t go nowhere wit’ me [if] I don’t fuck you?” True, although this lone woman is also being stalked by her ex (Kevin Bacon), a disheveled would-be doctor with a ratty dog, and bugged by her only student (Sharrieff Pugh), obsessed—wouldn’t you know—with serial killer John Wayne Gacy. What’s more, her dizzy half-sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) lives above the Baby Doll Lounge and, in a way, lives it—Leigh’s grisly performance invites an appropriate fate.

As befits its nightmarish narrative, In the Cut is wildly mannered. Campion tracks her star with a nervous, furtive camera and, even in moments of stasis, racks focus with abandon. Even the lens seems to be sweating and, as in earlier Campion films, the gooey ooze of action is annotated by dreams and prenatal memories. The city itself is full of occult signs. The mean streets resonate with spooky wind chimes and the words of the prophets are written on subway walls—it’s an urban haunted house, lacking only a medium played by Whoopi Goldberg.

Every man is a suspect and ultimately, poor Meg finds herself surrounded by guys, all sniffing around the same damn thing. Someone gets handcuffed to the bed, someone else runs barefoot into the East Village night. The risible ending is not so much wildly improbable as desperately concocted—possibly even after the movie wrapped.

Related Article:

Making the Cut: Jane Campion’s Feminist Film Noir Stirs Up Pheromones and Occult Mystery in a Malevolent East Village” by Joy Press


The Rules of the Game

Helplessly drawn to the spectacle of tragic genius yet routinely thwarted by its abstract dimensions, the Hollywood inspirational biopic has over the years acquired an air of numb, dutiful redundancy befitting a Christmastime obligation. By all appearances, Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind marches in lockstep through the supernova ascent, calamitous flameout, and odds-defying recovery of math whiz John Forbes Nash Jr., who pioneered a revolutionary approach to game theory in his Princeton doctoral thesis, won a Nobel for it at age 66, and in between, struggled for nearly three decades with debilitating bouts of paranoid schizophrenia. But the movie—vaguely based on Sylvia Nasar’s 1998 biography of the same title—is not altogether what it seems. For reasons best left undiscussed, it eventually comes into focus as a chilling portrait of interior torment. Suffice to say the film’s dramatic license seems sneakier and more audacious in retrospect.

A Beautiful Mind opens with the wunderkind newly arrived at Princeton’s mid-century hotbed of number-crunching prodigies. All gauche self-importance and oblivious condescension, he apparently stood out as a social maladroit even among fellow math geeks. Russell Crowe’s embodiment of the pretty-boy genius (“handsome as a god,” as an awed colleague puts it in Nasar’s book) is a feat of concentrated detail and (spanning as it does some four decades) remarkably convincing makeup. As in The Insider, Crowe tunnels into character via body language—imagining an eloquent vocabulary of tics, fixating on Nash’s wary eyes and restless hands, his anxious grimaces and bashfully suppressed smiles.

The film itself derives its broad conception of Nash from Nasar’s exhaustively researched biography, but much of the unexpectedly crafty screenplay by Akiva Goldsman (responsible for the Joel Schumacher abominations A Time to Kill and Batman & Robin) is pure fiction. The professional apex of Nash’s Princeton years—the game-theory breakthrough called the Nash equilibrium—is whimsically distilled to a eureka moment while he tries to devise a pickup strategy in a bar. The movie also omits some of the book’s juicier details: relationships with other men, a child out of wedlock, an arrest for indecent exposure. The biopic version of Nash’s wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), is cobbled together from Long-Suffering Spouse clichés; in real life, the Nashes had a considerably rockier marriage. (Alicia filed for divorce in the early ’60s—she took John back some years later, after the onset of his illness, and they only remarried last summer.) Nash worked briefly for the RAND think tank; the movie turns his code-cracking assignments (under the instructions of Ed Harris’s shady Pentagon operative) into a major subplot and milks it for Strangelovean paranoia. It becomes clear, though, that the liberties taken by Goldsman’s script are not merely in the service of conforming unwieldy lives to clean narrative arcs.

Howard’s foursquare direction is a perfect fit for Goldsman’s disorienting legerdemain, though he defers far too often to James Horner’s insistent, asphyxiating score (this is easily the worst-sounding movie of the season). It’s a shame that the filmmakers pay such scant attention to the nature of Nash’s work—the cruelest irony here is that the man who finessed a mathematical theory of rational behavior should succumb to a downward spiral of insanity. Nash claims that he reasoned his way out of his schizophrenia, by enforcing a “diet of the mind.” But the film doesn’t monitor his convalescence with as much interest as his decline—indeed the final third seems wan and mechanical. It’s doubly frustrating that after flirting with (and even upending) biopic conventions for much of its length, A Beautiful Mind finally gives in to them so readily.

On balance, though, the portrayal of mental illness is unusually discreet. The voices in Nash’s head were more outlandish than the ones depicted in the film—according to Nasar’s book, he thought aliens were transmitting messages to him and he sought to form a single world government. While the idea of tailoring its subject’s state of mind for narrative convenience raises its own set of ethical quandaries, the movie illustrates with poignant (if reductive) clarity the awful no-exit paradox of a paranoid delusion—that its most incapacitating aspect is its terrifying realness.

Barely cognizant of any reality outside the soundstage Manhattan of Friends, the club-footed time-travel romp Kate and Leopold is credited to director James Mangold, but the project’s true auteur is the nose-scrunching, arm-flapping mass of self-adoring yuppie neuroses known as Meg Ryan. This being a romantic comedy, Ryan’s Kate is a workaholic New Yorker in desperate need of priority realignment. She lives downstairs from her ex, Stuart (Liev Schreiber), in an apartment that opens out onto a spacious fire escape where “Moon River” blares nightly. Her only distinguishing trait is that she has the perfect job for a Miramax protagonist. She’s a market researcher who makes “boring movies shorter.” But not this one.

Having traversed cyberspace to hook up with Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, Ryan now has to enter the fourth dimension to nab hot 19th-century duke Hugh Jackman. Meaning she has to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge into a portal above the East River. The shabby metaphysics and complete absence of internal logic are perhaps meant to charm, but only add to the eye-gouging irritant factor. For instance, when Jackman’s Leopold, who hasn’t yet invented the elevator, follows great-great-grandson Stuart back to the present day, Stuart consequently falls down an elevator shaft. But why would there be a shaft in the first place? And why does it give no one pause that, if Kate’s destiny is to marry Leopold, Stuart’s ex-girlfriend would then be his great-great-grandmother? (An incest-anxiety time-travel template already exists, after all—see Back to the Future.)

In the end, of course, even the distance of 100-odd years can’t keep Meg from snaring her man, but what other impediments can screenwriters throw in her path now that she’s smashed the space-time barrier? Does this perfunctorily Sisyphean effort represent the death throes of the Meg Ryan romantic comedy?


‘Access’ Denied

NBC’s entertainment newsmagazine Access Hollywood thought it was being hip when it first aired its new Internet-derived segment “Battle @ the Box
Office” on November 5, but it ended up with controversy instead. The segment featured Max Keiser, cofounder and creator of the Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX), where for the past three years entertainment junkies have been buying and selling shares in films, music, and celebrities using ersatz “Hollywood Dollars.” Predicting the opening weekend box-office performance of various films based on their market activity among HSX’s 350,000 registered traders, Keiser dubbed The Bone Collector “the odds-on favorite to win.” He then prophesied that The Insider would underperform because “America’s tired of this movie-of-the-week stuff.”

The segment drew immediate fire from Hollywood studios, who threatened to pull film footage and talent interviews from the entirely studio-dependent newsmagazine. The real battle, however, was between old and new media, as unregulated Internet content slowly but surely makes its way into the more regimented precincts of network television.

The studios claim to be afraid of self-fulfilling prophesies: that a poor forecast for a film might dampen audience turnout, even though HSX prognoses are based entirely on market factors and not qualitative judgments as to whether a film is worth seeing. Keiser, for his part, feels that studios are fighting a rear-guard action against the Internet’s freer circulation of information about entertainment commodities. “People are saying, ‘Why declare a winner in the race before the weekend box office tally is even in?’-but the race started the second you began production on your movie,” says Keiser. “When a film goes into production it automatically begins trading on HSX, so all we’re doing is giving long-lead marketing awareness to movies in a way that didn’t exist before.”

In fact, gauging films and celebrities like commodities-in-play has been standard studio practice since time immemorial, and some Hollywood honchos are still hoping to preserve it as their own private game. But predicting opening-weekend grosses has now become a national sport, and the astonishing growth of HSX reveals that more consumers are approaching entertainment commodities with the cold, calculating gaze of a financial analyst, asking questions like, “What is Meg Ryan’s long-term gross potential?” rather than “Didn’t Meg Ryan look cute on Leno last night?” “People want to be involved in entertainment in a more interactive way, and I think that the studios may be underestimating the sophistication of the audience a little bit,” says Keiser, who cites the Internet-enabled success of Blair Witch Project as a much-needed wake-up call for old-school media. “Blair Witch changed the rules overnight, and now studios have to wake up and smell the Net.”

The revolution, however, may take more than a few cell-phone calls. Evidence of lingering old-media resistance came on last Friday’s “Battle @ the Box Office” segment, which aired after studios had threatened to boycott Access Hollywood. Acting like he had been force-fed some of the Soma routinely dispensed to cohosts Nancy O’Dell and Pat O’Brien, Keiser dished out nothing but upbeat, cheery assessments of celebrity and film stocks “on the rise,” while repeatedly exhorting viewers to “buy Leelee Sobieski.” Access Hollywood is, after all, just an industry promotional vehicle masquerading as a news show, so it looks like Keiser-at least for the time being-will have to wake up and smell the censorship of studio-dependent network television.


Hers and His and His

Masquerading as a bubbleheaded update of Design for Living, Splendor is Gregg Araki’s version of a family-values movie. The values in question are kinky, but only on the surface. And for the first time in an Araki film, there’s nothing but surface—the vacuity is genuine. At best, Splendor offers a kinder, gentler, seemingly heartfelt affirmation of polymorphous sexuality. At worst, it soft-pedals its heady perversity into a moral of sorts—threesomes are good; they can work. (And while we’re at it, sex is really good, and so are babies.)

The ménage à trois here revolves around struggling L.A. actress Veronica (Kathleen Robertson), who relates the events of her strenuously wacky life in a cutesy to-camera confessional that suggests Meg Ryan doing Ally McBeal. The fun starts one night when she meets brooding, sensitive rock critic Abel (Johnathon Schaech) and punk-drummer sexgod Zed (an agreeably Neanderthal Matt Keeslar) and decides not to choose. At first the guys are jealous, but a truth-or-dare session engenders a (tame) same-sex kiss. All three sleep together (offscreen; the guys, it seems, don’t so much as lay a hand on each other), and before long are cohabitating in relative bliss.

For far too long, the film leans on the notion of unconventional domesticity for humor—not unlike Three’s Company, which it namechecks. Araki has always exploited the tropes of bad TV, turning them inside out and rubbing them up against each other, with pleasing—if not necessarily profound—results. Splendor, however, might as well be bad TV. The broad acting (Kelly MacDonald, as Veronica’s kooky-Brit lesbian best friend, deserves special mention for her skin-crawling performance) and leaden script cancel each other out. The overall tone is also problematic—satirical, mocking, and large, but without direction or context (it’s a mark of how self-satisfied and literal-minded the film is when the end credits roll and New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” kicks in). At once in-your-face and out-of-it, Splendor is what happens when a director whose natural mode is subversion runs out of things to subvert.